Recently, public activities came to my attention which, given the source, I found both surprising and startling. The publicly-funded Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) – a crown corporation which serves the public as the national broadcaster – is also a platform for superstition; disguised as astrology.
By publishing weekly horoscopes, the CBC – worse than its mere promotion – is perpetuating superstition. In the words of the once Torontonian, Emma Goldman: “Superstition – along with Ignorance and Bigotry – is one of the most sinister and tyrannical rulers on Earth”.
Emma Goldman, like many of humanity’s greatest heroes, was an ordinary person with extraordinary ideas. However, she wasn’t the first to publicly denounce superstition. More than two millennia before Emma, the Sage Epicurus did the same.
Epicurus was famously attributed – by David Hume, among others – with a compelling argument against divine providence; widely known as the problem of evil. Divine providence is really just another form of anthropocentric superstition. Such notions – though, seemingly unique to the human condition – are found universally across cultures. However, significant progress has been made; the geocentric solar system was overthrown and replaced with the heliocentric system, divine creation of human beings – like the genesis account of Adam and Eve – was overthrown and replaced with evolution. The universe turned out to be materialistic and purposeless.
Despite progress, such anthropocentric superstition continues on with, for example, astrology, a pseudoscience – not to be confused with astronomy – that purports special extraterrestrial relationships with earthly human affairs and claims special knowledge concerning the supposed mundane effects on individual lives.
For example, the most recently published CBC horoscope, for the week of April 22nd, 2019, asserts that the changing motion of Pluto will impact your personal life here on Earth and quells fears of this change by then characterizing – if not personifying – the protective nature of Pluto. Personally, I do think Pluto could be protective, indeed, if it intercepts potentially catastrophic asteroids from making impact with Earth.
My main concerns with such instances of publicly-funded superstition, are whether they do more harm than good and how one can possibly justify the perpetuation of societal superstition?
Epicurus thought it’s misguided to approach problems of human suffering without offering any truly beneficial remedy. I’m sympathetic to some astrologers’ horoscopes because I cannot discount the potential for a sort of placebo effect. But some astrologers include lucky numbers in their horoscopes and therefore encourage gambling. Epicurus strongly discouraged leaving our well-being to chance. Epicurus also thought it rather ridiculous to pray or wait for things to happen, especially for things easily within your means of securing for yourself. To me, it does seem tragic to wait for a horoscope to prescribe you a positive outlook. Epicurus kindly encouraged us to never delay for enjoying, as far as I’m aware, our one and only life. Every second is the opportunity of a life time. This sentiment was later echoed by another hero of humanity, Charles Darwin, who wrote to his sister: “a man who dares to waste one hour of time, has not discovered the value of life”.
Here are three more concerns worth sharing: Epicurean philosophy advises against the use of empty words and recommends we call things by their proper name, so, perhaps, half-jokingly, my first concern is whether astrologers have updated their definitions of planets to now exclude Pluto from their planetary considerations of our solar system?
My second and third concerns come after some reflection on my own education. My high school history teacher, certainly overqualified – with a PhD – to be teaching at a secondary school, taught me an importantly elegant definition: “culture, simply put, is just learned behaviour”. A major problem I have with the CBC horoscopes is that they’re published under the culture column of the life section. Beyond the potential placebo effect, what good are they in terms of societal cultural best practises for setting positive examples of permissible or acceptable behaviour?
Thirdly, reflecting even further back to primary school, during the health and physical education components of our curriculum, I vividly remember the anti-drug workshops. The takeaway message was that some drugs are viewed as gateway drugs. There exist drugs that, if regularly exposed to, can lead to other, often harder, drugs. Does astrology desensitize or normalize superstition? Does the popular and national exposure through CBC stimulate the exploration of possibly more dangerous superstitions?
I think publicly-funded superstition is scandalous for two, non-mutually exclusive, reasons; the national media losing its credibility and the potential gateway-drug effect.
I think it’s now appropriate to consider the wisdom of another personal hero of mine – who likewise I’d extend as being a true friend and hero of humanity like Epicurus and Emma Goldman.
Reflecting on the Chernobyl Nuclear disaster, considered one of the worst human-made disasters, Dr. Michael Crichton reminded us all of the potential public safety and health consequences from the broadcast of false, inaccurate or misleading information.
Dr. Crichton shared the disturbing conclusion of the later UN Report, which suggested that the most harm from the fallout came in the form of the psychological effects, as a result of inaccurate and grossly misleading information reported by various media outlets – including the CBC – that manifested as negative self-assessments of health, a belief in shortened life expectancy, a pervasively felt incapacity to take initiative and dependency on assistance from the state.
In his fearless 2005 testimony before the US Congress against the politicization of science, at which then-Senator Hillary Clinton was present but played no helpful part, Dr. Crichton advanced that the proper function of government is to set standards for the integrity of information: “In an information society, public safety depends on public information, only government can perform that task.”
In a time of so-called fake news, how can anyone be expected to know who to trust and what to believe if the main Canadian media source is currently the home for astrology and therefore perpetuating societal superstition? I therefore ask that members of the CBC carefully reflect on their code of conduct in order to restore public trust and regain mutual respect.
Both the CBC and Ethics Commissioner were reached for comment. When available, an update will be provided.
I’ll sign off with an appropriate song: Best of You by Foo Fighters